“Those who have much to hope and nothing to lose will always be dangerous, more or less.”
Hope calls to those who listen. It may sound different than we expected. It may arrive in an unexpected way. But its song of invitation rings out nonetheless.
In a crowded upper room in Jerusalem, a group of weary travelers gathered with their teacher to celebrate an ancient rite together that commemorated their God’s deliverance of their ancestors from oppression and the freedom given them to live as God’s people for the world. But those were the days of old. The present days were full of trouble. Darkness was closing in around the band. Their teacher was popular with the unpopular of the land, but those in power were offended by his every word and act. They were biding their time for an opportunity to eliminate the young religious upstart. Unbeknownst to those present, one their own, Judas Iscariot, had already agreed to betray the teacher when no one was around to notice.
After the meal began, the teacher took bread, gave thanks to God for it, broke it, and passed around the table saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” When they had finished eating, he took a goblet full of wine and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Later that night, his followers watched him be arrested by the authorities. The next day, he was flogged and crucified before their eyes. After his resurrection from the dead on Day Three, Jesus’ followers saw in his life of mission, death on a cross, and resurrection from the dead the unleashing of a long awaited New Covenant first promised through the Prophet Jeremiah over 600 years earlier.
31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the LORD.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
Our text from Jeremiah resounds with hope. But it was hope for those with ears to hear. Jeremiah did not come preaching to the affluent and well to do during a time of peace and prosperity. Jeremiah’s time was one marked by chaos, death, and destruction. His ministry occurred during the final days of the House of Judah when the Babylonians were oppressing God’s people. By the end of life, God’s people would be in exile and the land of his birth would be devastated and repopulated with foreigners.
Yet in the midst of the dark days at the end of the Judaean monarchy, Jeremiah proclaimed a coming new day on which God would reshape the order of reality and unleash a revived people to serve as agents of healing, hope, and restoration. The vision that Jeremiah proclaimed invites us to reclaim our identity as God’s people and step into a new future. Perhaps God can use these words again to renew our imaginations and reignite our passion to live as the people whom God created us to be.
Hope for a New Day
Jeremiah saw a new day when God’s people would experience a tectonic shift in their life with God. God would amp up the relationship by offering a New Covenant””one even greater than the covenant forged on the slopes of Mt. Sinai. The old covenant was broken repeatedly by the disobedience of God’s people. Its story was one of God’s faithfulness matched by the unfaithfulness of God’s people. In response, Jeremiah spoke the Word of God about a coming New Covenant to engender hope for those struggling and desperate for God to act. These bold words announce audaciously and counter-intuitively in the midst of trying times that God’s work of salvation is not merely in the past. The God who delivered God’s people from Egypt powerfully remains attentive and committed to fulfilling His mission to bring hope, healing, and restoration to the World.
The message to God’s people is clear. Persevere. Hang on. Live faithfully. God remains at work. A new day is coming.
Hope for a transforming encounter with God
The new reality that Jeremiah envisions begins with a life-altering encounter with the living God. The relationship between God’s people and the LORD will move beyond formal religion and mere attempts at obedience. For too long, God’s people had equated their life with God as the performance of ritual and the keeping of commands. At worst this way of relating to God allowed God’s people to separate religion from their personal ethics. When the new day dawns, God would internalize the law by inscribing it on the inner-most places of each person.
Instead of struggling endlessly and slavishly for faithfulness, God’s people would be unleashed to live lives of faithful obedience through the transformation of encountering the living God in a bold new way. The desire to live for God would bubble forth from inside of God’s people. It would permeate into all areas of life so that God’s people would truly live as the people of God for the world.
Hope for a personal relationship
Jeremiah sees a new age of personal relationship with God. There is more here than a sentimental “Jesus and me” religion. The prophet foresees a day when each of God’s people will truly know the LORD. The constant temptation is to substitute knowledge about God for a moment by moment relationship with God.
God’s desire for relationship is genuine and echoes the earliest pages of the Scriptures when God conversed with the first humans and walked with them in the garden. A people who truly know the LORD is a people ready to act. Knowing God is the doorway to living as the people whom God created us to be””a people who exist to embody and reflect God’s character to a watching world. By knowing the LORD, we become clues to those looking for God and voices of hope to all.
Hope for a new community
Jeremiah’s vision was for a renewed people of God as a whole. We are often tempted to understand our relationship with God on wholly individualistic terms. A radical individual approach to faith remains a temptation for God’s people, but such a view is foreign to a biblical faith including the new reality described by the prophet. The prophet can see clearly a new community of God’s people drawn “from the least of them to the greatest.”
E. Stanley Jones, the 20th century Methodist missionary to India, often said, “Christianity that doesn’t begin with the individual doesn’t begin; Christianity that ends with the individual ends.” God’s people exist as a missional community for the world. The danger of a self-referential faith is that it exists for the individual rather than for the world. The same danger exists for communities isolated from the world. Just as God freed Israel from Egypt to function as a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation” for the sake of all nations so also in the New Covenant, God’s people corporately function as a missionary people: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Pet 2:9)
Hope for forgiveness and new memories.
All of Jeremiah’s daring preaching reaches its climax in God’s declaration of intention to forgive iniquity and remove the sin of God’s people from his memory. These words are salve to the ears of those hearing Jeremiah’s words of hope but doubting that they would be meaningful to their own lives due to their past and present sins. God intends to create a new future built on new memories by freeing God’s people from slavery to their past failings. As biblical scholar Carolyn Osiek writes, “It is not ‘forgive and forget’ as if nothing wrong had ever happened, but ‘forgive and go forward,’ building on the mistakes of the past and the energy generated by reconciliation to create a new future.” The power of Jeremiah’s words is found in the promise of God to forgive us and reconcile us to himself as the basis for experiencing the other promises. This is good news indeed.
The disciples may not have understood Jesus words””This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood””on the eve of his death, but they risked their very lives on their truthfulness after his resurrection.
The darkest hour may indeed be right before the dawn. Jeremiah offered words as a poetic glimpse of the future that God has for those who seek him. The early Christian leader Tertullian wrote, “Hope is patience with the lamp lit.” This is a hope that can truly change the world.
What if following Jesus Christ were the way to experience the message of hope that Jeremiah preached to those desperate and longing for God?